Duchene trade raises inevitability of Senators moving Stone, Dzingel

HC at Noon panel breaks down the Ottawa Senators trading Matt Duchene to the Blue Jackets, with the consensus being that it was a good trade from both teams' perspectives, but what's next now in Columbus.

That THUD heard in the nation’s capital was the sound of the first of the Senators’ ‘Big Three’ trade deadline pieces being moved.

And so it was that Matt Duchene, yesterday’s flashy centre for the Senators, simply walked down the hall of the Canadian Tire Centre to join his new Columbus Blue Jackets teammates for a game against – of course, Duchene’s former team. The Jackets face the Senators Friday evening.

It’s not an unfamiliar scenario. When Duchene was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in Nov. 2017, his first two games with the Senators were against Colorado, in Sweden.

In exchange for Duchene and the Senators’ AHL Belleville defenceman Julius Bergman, Ottawa picked up the Blue Jackets’ 2019 first rounder (lottery protected), plus prospects Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson. Both are smallish forwards. Ottawa also gets a conditional 2020 first-round pick if Duchene signs long-term with Columbus.

On his Twitter account, Duchene thanked Ottawa fans and the organization for “first-class” treatment during his 15-month stay here.

“I can’t think of a better place for my son Beau to have been born, and I can’t wait to tell him all about our time here when he’s old enough.”

We’d love to hear those stories.

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The haul for Duchene is a far cry from what Ottawa yielded 15 months ago — Kyle Turris, Andrew Hammond, Shane Bowers plus a first-round pick (slated to be a lottery pick) and a third rounder.

As a pending UFA, Duchene is a rental now, a “distressed asset,” in the words of Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke. The pot does sweeten if Columbus is able to sign him by July 1.

Senators general manager Pierre Dorion did not speak to reporters but issued a statement.

“When we acquired Matt in November of 2017, we had hoped his addition would drive us to another playoff run,” Dorion said. “Obviously that did not materialize; more than a year ago, we shifted our focus to a proper rebuild of the entire organization.”

Dorion added that the Senators wanted Duchene to be a building block going forward and offered him a “fair and comprehensive contract.”

It’s believed Duchene turned down an eight-year deal worth at least US$ 8-million per season.

“As soon as it was determined that he did not want to be part of our rebuild, we shifted our focus to see what assets we could acquire in exchange for Matt that would help grow our pipeline of potential,” Dorion said Friday.

“We feel that both Vitaly and Jonathan, along with the first-round pick, will help enhance the team’s future and fit with our continuing effort to build a younger, faster and stronger roster.”

The Senators certainly know Abramov. He was a high-scoring winger for the nearby Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL (46 goals, 104 points in 2016-17). With AHL Cleveland, Abramov has 22 points in 52 games. Davidsson is playing in Sweden.

So now fans in Ottawa wait for the next shoe to drop. Thursday night marked another low point – perhaps the lowest of all in a constant pursuit of rock bottom — and another rallying cry to depose this ownership and management. Forwards Mark Stone, Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, who have combined for 77 goals and 164 points this season, were all kept out of Ottawa’s lineup against New Jersey.

All became prime candidates to be traded for prospects and draft picks before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. Some are still holding out desperate hope that Stone might stay, but fear the worst.

Say it ain’t Stone. His departure will trump Duchene’s.

Rooted in the eyes of a Western Canada scout who saw something in this rough-hewn, unconventional skater from Winnipeg, Stone was Ottawa’s 6th-round shot in the dark in 2010, selected after 177 players went before him.

Now 26, Stone has developed into a two-way star for the Senators, a master puck thief, their leader and top scorer. Tabbed to be their next captain, Stone was getting mentioned in the same breath as franchise icon Daniel Alfredsson. That is, he had a chance to become the next Alfie, a right winger and consummate leader who spat out the taste of defeat.

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If Stone walks away, like Alfie, Erik Karlsson and Duchene before him, the deduction is that Ottawa’s elite players share fans’ distrust of this ownership, and aren’t buying in to a recent Eugene Melnyk directive that the team will get good by 2021 and spend “close to the cap.”

Dorion said in the fall he’d been close last summer to getting Stone signed to a long-term contract, settled for a one-year deal for US$ 7.35-million, but expected to get him done in 2019 before he became a free agent.

After the Senators failed to sign Karlsson and traded him to San Jose, Dorion reassured the fan base:

“We will preserve a core group of veterans, good leaders, while tapping into the young, elite NHL talent that will embrace our culture, our character, our chemistry that we want to build in our locker room for the long haul.”

Much of that core has one foot out the door.

Veteran Bobby Ryan, one of the few recognizable names left on the roster, described the pre-game mood in New Jersey as “sombre.” No doubt. Then they went out and lost four-zip to a truly lousy Devils team.

It can’t be easy for Dorion, working for a man like Melnyk, who talks about “unprecedented success” while slashing payroll and hockey infrastructure.

Dorion surely isn’t provided the resources he needs to keep his best players. But it felt like even Melnyk recognized the need – too late, of course – to put together a big offer to keep Stone.

Dorion has brought a lot of this on himself. It was his judgment in the fall of 2017 that the Senators team that was within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2017, was a Duchene away from glory. (Analytics suggested otherwise, that the Senators were playing over their heads and a reckoning was due).

Now Duchene himself gets moved in the name of a “rebuild.” Or fire sale.


Reports indicate the Senators went hard after Stone with offers this past week, an eight-year deal and a five-year offer that would pay him in the $10 million per year range. That sort of urgency that might have landed Stone a month ago, or last summer.

And what does it say about the direction of the franchise when a homegrown beauty like Stone can’t see the value in staying with the team that drafted and developed him. The team that would offer him the ‘C’ on his jersey and the keys to the city.

In recent days, fans have taken to offering Stone incentives to stay.

The Ridge Rock Brewing Co. in Carp promised Stone “free beer for life” if he signed long-term with the Senators. Carp is a Stone’s throw northwest of Canadian Tire Centre.

Sometimes a guy knows he has to go. Like the guy before him and the guy before that.

Meanwhile, fans in Ottawa remain remarkably passionate, those who haven’t tuned out in apathy. They are calling the local hockey team a train wreck, a carcass to be picked over at the deadline by competitive teams. The Senators have some good young talent, but fans have grown too jaded to imagine them re-upping when their time comes. “What did we do to deserve this garbage?” asked one fan in a text to TSN1200, the station that broadcasts Senators games.

Many of the diminishing faithful in Ottawa see but one solution: a broom sweeping clean. New ownership, management, coaching staff. A brand new day.

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